KwikChex – Taking On TripAdvisor in the Courts?

TripAdvisor Group Action

If you get mailings from TripAdvisor, you may recall a recent email campaign from TripAdvisor with the subject line “Don’t go there. Hotel Horror Stories!”

The email singled out a dozen hotels and linked to a dreadful  review on the TripAdvisor site for each of them.

This went too far, according to Chris Emmins, co-founder of the UK-based reputation management site KwikChex.

Emmins points out that while many of the hotels had other negative reviews on TripAdvisor, some of them actually were recommended by a majority of reviewers.  By advising people not to go there, it is possible that TripAdvisor has opened the way to a legal case for defamation, despite the extremely protective American law that it has hidden behind up until now. Basically, under the USA 1996 Communications Decency Act, online publishers like TripAdvisor are held to be not responsible for any third party content they publish – including defamatory reviews and lies.

Because of this broad protection given to website publishers in the USA, there is little hoteliers have been able to do in the face of downright lies in TripAdvisor reviews.  Freedom of speech must be upheld, but it comes with responsibilities – freedom of speech does not mean we should accept lies.

“Online, Congress has given a special, very broad safe harbor to folks like TripAdvisor, and that has repeatedly been upheld by the courts,” said Jack Lerner, a professor at the University of Southern California Law School who specialises in Internet law. “The idea is, otherwise it would be too risky to be the service provider.”


Personally, I find the law in America is crazy for protecting online publishers from any responsibility for the content of third party reviews. If the publisher has been told that the content on their site is false and/or defamatory and the publisher refuses to retract the offending article or review, then they, as well as the author,  should from that point on be held responsible for the content.   That’s plain common sense and fair play.  But the law is clearly another matter!

In the case of the “Hotel Horrors” email, Lerner said any legal case in the USA would depend on “original content” having been created by TripAdvisor, as well as whether the stories were true.

“It’s a fine line that Congress has drawn,” Lerner said.  “They have given a lot of protection to these websites so they can operate freely and not have to be looking over their shoulder the entire time. That’s a tough sell to people who are getting defamed out there.”

KwikChex Chris Emmins said of the email “It’s come from TripAdvisor and not their members.  How could they do this and hide behind the phrase ‘user-generated content’?”

KwikChex has been examining this and taking legal advice – and is now launching a group action to press for changes to be made and specific damage to be addressed.  The following extract from the KwikChex site explains what they are doing:

The Action

The action includes:

  • Insistence on the removal of serious allegations that are unverified and for which there is no evidence, or for which there is evidence that the comments are entirely false. These include. Food poisoning; Accusations of criminal acts; including theft, assault and racism; Misleading and malicious descriptions of the property.
  • Compensation for businesses that have been singled out in TripAdvisor marketing activities, such as email and ‘reports’ that are misleading and substantially unrepresentative of the overall reputation of the property / business.
  • Correction of rankings in cases where the information used to produce a ranking is incorrect, out of date or provably false.

In addition, group members will lobby for the following changes to be made:

  • In these cases, they are not genuinely representative and have no meaningful value to consumers – but instead mislead and unfairly damage reputations. The management response facility provided is inadequate and does not correct the rankings.
  • Automatic deletion of all reviews over 2 years old.
  • Deletion of reviews referring to old criticism that have long been addressed and resolved (i.e., through refurbishment).
  • More accurate description of the reliability of reviews – qualify that individual reviews are usually anonymous and unverified and may not be from genuine customers. Desist using key phrases in this regard, such as ‘From A Trusted TripAdvsior Member’ and ‘Reviews You Can Trust’
  • Improve filtering systems to screen out words such as ‘poisoning’ ‘theft’ and vulgar expletives.
  • Cease the use of emails and online lists, using phrases such as ‘Hotel Horror Stories – Don’t Go There’ and ‘The Best and Worst Revealed’
  • An improved response system for owners and managers, enabling them to respond in greater detail

The Case Against TripAdvisor

  • TripAdvisor claims that they are not responsible for user generated content – but claims ownership of all posts.
  • TripAdvisor has taken user generated content and used it for commercial purposes, including misleading and damaging statements.
  • The TripAdvisor ratings system is flawed and inconsistent and distorts reputation.
  • TripAdvisor has failed to take appropriate action when offered evidence of falsehoods – thus removing their blanket disclaimer defence.
  • TripAdvisor is not consistently abiding by its stated policies.

Many specific cases have been prepared, and particular instances of serious, unproven allegations and misleading information generated by TripAdvisor have been identified and if necessary will be used in a legal challenge.

If your business has been the subject of the serious, unverified allegations or proven falsehoods as detailed above, you can join the group action for removal of the offending posts.  Joining the group action is not free – it is £35 – but how much is your online reputation worth?

EDIT:
KwikChex IS NOT JUST ABOUT AVOIDING NEGATIVE PUBLICITY.  Its main business is what it calls its ‘Promote & Protect’ service.  According to KwikChex “This service focuses on the positive by promoting reputable businesses very effectively – and provides not just participation in the current action against TA, but also robust defences against all manner of online defamation.” http://www.kwikchex.com

And no, I’m not on commission!

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11 responses to “KwikChex – Taking On TripAdvisor in the Courts?

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  2. We are based in USA. How can we join the class action law suit against Trip Advsisor.

    We do not even want to be part of their site… Many lies on those reviews while we have hundreds of people happy who do not have time to write reviews.

    • I think your best bet is to contact KwikChex and see what they say, though my understanding is that the action is (or was at the time) on behalf of UK hotels.

    • Hi Dominique – over 60% of KwikChex members are from the USA at present.

      You can contact KwikChex via the website and sign up on line if you wish – although we normally recommend that you let us have any specific information first in order that we can advise you. The actions we are taking are on behalf of members that pay an annual fee £195) GBP (approx $316 USD), so it is important that businesses understand all the benefits and all the actions we are taking.
      Hope this is helpful.

      Regards,

      Chris Emmins, KwikChex.com

  3. Pingback: Support for KwikChex vs. TripAdvisor Grows | TripAdvisorWatch: Travel Review Sites in Focus

  4. I am pleased to say that the post we featured in media releases this week – the completely false allegations of racism against Brook Barn Country House has now been removed by TripAdvisor – just days after they defended it in an email to the owners. We will be continuing to fight on behalf of other defamed businesses and hope that TA will sit down with good, honest businesses to discuss how they can start introducing ways they can contribute more to consumers by participating in a drive to create a more trusted web. Thnaks to all for the support we have received. Chris Emmins, KwikChex.com

  5. Chris.

    Firstly, thanks for giving honest, hard-working owners a voice against this tide of negativity creared and maintained by TripAdvisor.

    I’m actually a ‘Destination Expert’ for TA only because I see so much misinformation there and wish to redress the balance. That’s where my affiliation with TA starts & ends. I’m also an owner, with a very positive rating on TA. But, we’ve had one or two ‘reviews’ on there that were either a) malicious in intent due to circumstances I won’t go into here, or b) completely false in that the ‘guest’ never actually stayed with us, and which we can prove in a number of ways. This has to stop.

    I’m interested in joining your scheme as I believe anyone who values their hard-won reputation should be.

    Secondly, ‘Hotel Consultant’, please provide statistics to back up your post. Any fair-minded person can see that what TA are doing is wrong, and the law covering their arses in the US is helping them to get away with systematically destroying small businesses world-wide. Try looking at their Owner Forum just to get a handle on how many people are affected by their unfair policies.

  6. It has been my experience that 99% of the hotels with poor reviews deserve them. So one has to ask what is important here. Is faith in the hospitality industry important or is protecting a few operators / owners that do not invest or maintain their hotels?

    • It is not beyond the realms of possibility that 99% of the hotels with poor reviews deserve them, even if that statistic is not based on any hard facts and figures. But even allowing that most poor reviews are deserved, it doesn’t mean that those who falsely denigrate someone’s reputation should be allowed to get away with it.

    • Hotel Consultant – firstly, all of the hotels that have contacted KwikChex thus far actually have a ‘positive status’ on TA – they are mostly outstanding properties that invest heavily in their properties and staff, so your point about their standards does not hold up. One that contacted us yesterday for example has a 99% rating – but the one terrible review is from a person that has seriously defamed them – which can be proven. They don’t think they should just write that off as ‘part of the Internet’s ups and downs’ – and neither do I. Secondly, the havoc that is caused particularly to good small businesses who have few reviews, but come under malicious attack on TA and do not get the support they deserve, is devastating. Only this morning, I have been made aware of a case of a high standard, award winning B&B that has been forced to close because of a malicious campaign on review sites – and even a cursory investigation indicates that it was the work of a competitor. These types of business are often run by people with little knowledge of the internet or how to protect themselves. And you are also missing a fundamental point – the action KwikChex is engaged in includes citing that TripAdvisor had added comments to individual reviews both on their website and in emails to members that were not in context and that would almost certainly create a negative, unjustifiable perspective. Several of the hotels they attacked were again highly rated and are unquestionably of a very good standard, In doing this, TA are guilty of misrepresentation themselves – they cannot cite user generated content or hide behind the Communications Decency Act provisions.

  7. Phil – thanks for following up on this. We would like to place the emphasis on the full ‘Promote & Protect’ service, which although it costs £170, it lasts for a full 12 months and focuses on the positive by promoting reputable businesses very effectively – and provides not just participation in the current action against TA, but also robust defences against all manner of online defamation. We also believe that the service, which we have called KwikChex All Rounders will be of greater benefit to consumers and hope that it will help lead the way in creating a more honest, fairer web.

    p.s. do you mind if we provide links to your site?

    All the best,

    Chris

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